Gary Player stunned by Presidential Medal of Freedom honour

Former Masters champions Jack Nicklaus, left, and Gary Player, right, pose with Masters Chairman Fred Ridley during the ceremonial start to the 83rd Masters. GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/Kevin C. Cox

‘As an international athlete, to receive the highest honour awarded to civilians in the United States is humbling indeed,’ Player said.

Gary Player today reacted to the news that he is to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom at The White House, saying that it is the highest honour he has achieved in his lifetime.

Together with Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam, Player will receive the medal from president Donald Trump on 23 March, becoming the first two international athletes to receive the prestigious award.

“I am incredibly humbled and grateful to be recognised in this way,” said Player. “For Annika and I to join Jack and Arnie, Charlie Sifford and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to have been awarded this honor is really very special.”

Player went on to say that to be honoured, not only for his success as a golfer, but also as a philanthropist who works tirelessly in the United States and around the world to raise funds for children’s education and other causes, is overwhelming: “I have been fortunate to have had much success in golf and to be a worldwide ambassador for the game, but it is my love of fellow humans that has inspired me to keep travelling and doing what I can to unite people and raise funds for those desperately in need.

“While remaining a proud South African, I have always been overwhelmed by the love and support that I have received from the American people. As an international athlete, to receive the highest honour awarded to civilians in the United States is humbling indeed and I will cherish this award from the president.”

During his career, Gary Player won 24 times on the PGA Tour and 19 times on the Champions Tour, including nine majors and nine senior majors, and is one of only five golfers to have achieved the career Grand Slam by winning all four of golf’s majors.

In a career spanning seven decades and with 165 worldwide victories, Player has received numerous awards and accolades. In 1966, he was awarded the Bob Jones Award, the highest honour given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf and he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

In 2000, he was voted “Sportsman of the 20th Century” in South Africa and, in 2006, received the Payne Stewart Award from the PGA Tour. In 2012, he received the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award, becoming the first international golfer to receive this accolade.

And in his home country, South African President Thabo Mbeki bestowed the Order of Ikhamanga (in gold) on Player in 2013 for exceptional achievements in sport.

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